Buddhist Boot Camps, Kopan vs. Suan Mokh, Part 2: the Cost of Karmic Retribution)…

img_0545Continued from previous…

Setting: Kopan is classic Tibetan temple and monastery style, with dragons and other adornments, set on top of a hill at the edge of the sprawling metropolis of Kathmandu, and gated, so semi-urban while it lasts. Suan Mokh, on the other hand, is green and pastoral, with an ambiance that reminds me of Boy Scout camp. Noises are few and far between, and far away, as are the gilded and glitzy temples of the city.

Eco-Friendliness is a specialty of Suan Mokh, where absolutely NOTHING is wasted, and flashlights are used at night rather than bathing the premises in artificial light. Recyclables are treated accordingly, and no drop of water is wasted if it can be saved for later use or recycled. This is part of the ethos and also just a reality of living in the countryside. Kopan is quasi-urban and subject to different conditions, so not as strictly obedient to environmental issues, apparently.

img_0871Quality of Instruction is a bit slack in both places, I’d say, though the Thai Forest Tradition places no great emphasis on book learning, anyway. Tibetans do, but the rambling discourse that passes for ‘Introduction to Buddhism’ is pretty bad, as if the teacher were merely showing up and ‘winging it’ every day, with no advance preparation whatsoever. I asked several students on the last day what the Fourth Noble Truth was, and no one knew, though there is nothing more basic to Buddhism than this—bad.

Interaction and Intellectual Stimulation: At Kopan there is no interaction between Tibetan monks and foreign students, and the little between Tibetan and foreign monks in only halting English, but there are many questions asked and discussed in class by students. At Suan Mokh it’s just the opposite: no questions but Thai monks teach and sit in—literally, in meditation—on classes, a great inspiration to meditation, if nothing else.

Thailand is not known for intellectual curiosity, but I suspect the English-language classes are different in that respect. It should also be noted that the Thai training is strictly silent, so hardly an inducement to questioning, and that surely over 90% of the class must already consider themselves Buddhist. At Kopan in Nepal I imagine that figure would be less than 10%.

Doctrine is the deal-killer for me with Tibetan Buddhism. Past lives or not, the idea that events in the present are conditioned upon them is not acceptable to me. This is basic: with no free will, there is no basis nor need for morality, so just fold up the card table and go home, nothing here to see. But more importantly there simply is no basis for this generation-leaping karmic retribution—pure superstition, conspiracy theory and cop-out, junk Hindu DNA and dangerous. If a young girl is raped, blame the rapist, not the girl—duh.

img_0539This is not the case for the Thais and Theravada Buddhism. While many individuals may believe similar things, that is not Dharma as interpreted by priests and intellectuals. Here the big deal is to extinguish wayward desires, and end suffering in the process. And that is how the Buddha intended it, I believe.

But of more concern to me at the present moment, is the acceptance of new technologies in Buddhism and neither of these traditions scores very highly in this regard. I plan to test the Thais on that, soon, i.e. test my wiggle room. If not, Buddhism as taught in Taiwan, Zen and Pure Land, is very open to it, so that’s an option. The idea of ‘permanent retreat’ is not my business plan. Retreat from what—civilization? I like Internet…

p.s. Though my recent pathetic display of meditation technique seemed hopeless, I knew at the same time that it was in fact getting better, just hard to see when you’re just trying to survive excruciatingly long sessions with increasingly sore legs. After a break and a psychological reboot, I can see that I have improved, with less distractions and more stillness. Out of sheer desperation I developed a secret technique that seems ridiculously obvious in retrospect—more on that later…

More importantly I think my general, and likely genetic, ‘itchiness’ has calmed down a notch or two, and that’s what’s most important. I’ve chilled, at least a bit. We Westerners, especially American, are so wired, whether inspired, or not, to the point that we’re in a constant state of road rage, kitchen rage, office rage, wherever is convenient, never satisfied, lying nervous and twitching, through our teeth and through every pore. This is not healthy. There must be a better way. There is…

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